When Rob Enslin joined Google just over a year ago, we noted that then SAP CEO Bill McDermott said:
He’ll be a great champion for SAP in his new opportunity
How's that working out?
I caught up with Enslin late last week to discover what's happened in the last year and to get his thoughts for the future. My primary interest was in hearing how the SAP relationship is working out.
It's no secret that Google has hired away a bunch of sales and engineering talent from SAP. It's also no secret that SAP is concerned to establish relationships with the hyperscalers that are mutually beneficial but where SAP benefits at the application layer. SAP CEO Christian Klein recently said to me:
I'm fully convinced that the hyperscalers will also go up the stack. In the partnerships, we are closing, we have to own the business platform, we have to own the application layer. I want to be more prescriptive on that because when you are losing more and more of the control of the customer transformation when you're not sitting on the table anymore, when they're making the decision how to transform the business model, then it gets difficult. I just want to make sure that now in these partnerships, we try our best to make sure that we are in the lead when it comes to business model transformation, when it comes to talks about how to move the system landscape, the application layer in the cloud. And it's also important that we position our platform there, as we cannot afford to lose the platform game either, as this is the platform which keeps our applications together, makes the integration work.
Enslin's response is unambiguous. Rather than talking solely about applications, he prefers referencing solutions and as regards competing with SAP, particularly as it relates to industries:
No. We don't want to compete with SAP on industry technologies in that way. SAP are experts at the business process layer. We think we can add value with AI, ML, and data analytics. A good example is shop floor visual inspection, where our AI can look at manufacturing plant floors and determine if a machine or part is nearing failure. Another example is deploying Anthos, our multi-cloud infrastructure solution, at the edge. We see SAP as a key player in the market of edge computing. To be clear, we will not operate at the business process layer. We'll operate at the AI/ML and data layer.
Another example is in money laundering software. Many of the models are static and prone to false positives. We think we have a unique advantage and can apply AI and ML to improve AML (anti-money laundering) efforts at banks.
So far so good. But there's more:
We look at industry in several ways. We have industry management under Lori Mitchell-Keller [who also came from SAP], and her team is trying to solve unique problems using AI/ML and with our other core products. We also have sales teams aligned by industry in many markets around the world. And on top of that we have specific AI/ML-focused engineers. But this doesn’t mean we’re getting into core banking, as an example. We'll operate at the AI/ML and data layer. An example of the kind of product we’re building with these AI/ML engineers is our Contact Center AI solution, which provides chatbots and AI to alleviate call centers. If you combine this solution with what SAP wants to do, you can see how powerful it is.
So how does Google view the SAP relationship - what is it doing to build out SAP specific capability?
We have a very significant focus on SAP as part of our overall strategy. This includes engineering talent, partner managers, centers of excellence, and more. In fact, we have a dedicated program around SAP—called CAP [Cloud Acceleration Program]—that we launched in 2019 that helps SAP customers simplify their transition to running SAP in the cloud. We have partners like Accenture, Deloitte, HCL, and others who are helping customers migrate their SAP workloads and applications to our cloud.
More broadly, Google is working with more than 250 SAP customers including Home Depot, Cardinal Health, Carrefour, McKesson, Procter & Gamble, and Uniqlo:
We have a program called Live Migration, which helps customers running SAP in the cloud avoid downtime. We’re able to keep SAP workloads running regardless of what upgrades or changes may be happening to the infrastructure underneath. This includes automatic IP management which is a huge deal. We’ve built a lot of services like that which make a huge amount of difference. We’re also doing work with 12TB machines and other large-scale environments. And, this morning, SAP just announced that Google Cloud has built a dedicated data center for joint Google Cloud/SAP customers.
This is what SAP says about the new DC:
The data center is single-tenant with SAP-dedicated compute, storage and network services. As an SAP exclusive data center, the entire infrastructure capacity deployed is also guaranteed and reserved for SAP use only. Furthermore, this data center follows SAP’s strict specifications for data protection and compliance standards for secure enterprise workloads.
But we've heard from multiple sources that Google is preferred to SAP as a technology partner for firms that would otherwise gravitate to SAP's partner ecosystem, largely because Google has a different way of going to market, one that is more 'go first, test to see what sticks, worry about paper later.'
We take an open approach, which is a little different than our competitors. We believe it’s totally fine to operate in a multi-cloud world. And we support open source ISVs and companies building on our platform. So, in short, we’re hiring the right talent, putting the right coverage in place for our customers, staffing up our support function, and simplifying the process of doing business with us.
Enslin's answers illuminate the extent to which he and his team are creating new business for Google, especially for the world of SAP customers. That should not be a surprise to anyone who followed Enslin's long career in sales at SAP.
We both agree that SAP isn't going away anytime soon but that partnerships of this kind help add value to SAP customers. However, this leads to the next topic - what about the next generation of ERP-like solutions?
From what I gather, data-driven, real-time solutions represent the emerging direction of next-generation enterprise software. Time and again we meet with software firms aligning with SAP customers who talk in those terms, emphasizing the primacy of data. Again, Enslin portrays this in a cooperative light albeit with technologies like TensorFlow as part of the conversation.
SAP is going to continue to expand their base of customers and provide more valuable services. We can partner with them in that. The way we look at data is truly unique. We can add value to SAP customers. We're in a unique position. As I said before, we’re not going to play at the process layer. We believe we’re going to be working with SAP at the innovation layer. Of course, SAP is going to innovate as well. They'll be able to do more things, when they containerize, provide more products at the edge, etc. Things will change dramatically. Speed and scale will matter.
And it is the issue fo speed and scale where Google, along with the other hyperscalers have a clear advantage. As Enslin says, in today's world, these are the two issues that matter most when considering business agility.
As always, I enjoyed our quickfire conversation but equally, I was left with the feeling that for all his carefully chosen words, Enslin wants to make sure Google remains at the center of customer conversations. He fully appreciates Klein's position and wants to reassure SAP that they really do have a partnership.
For my part, I caution SAP about getting overly concerned about the hyperscalers' intentions because it distracts from what they're best at delivering - world-class business processes operating inside systems of record. Does Enslin's solutions approach represent an existential threat to SAP? No - at least not for the time being. How long that remains the case is yet to be seen but given that Google offers, tools, technology, and solutions, there's plenty on Google's menu from which to choose for a cloudy future.">